I try my best to pay attention in class. Really, I do. The challenge is how to juggle listening to the professor, while the voices in my head are discussing other matters. Before you call me crazy, think about the voice(s) you hear occasionally. It could be the Holy Spirit, or the beans from last night, as Prof. L.T. Johnson jokingly remarked one day. I believe we all wrestle with similar challenges in our Christian walk. How can we focus on God’s voice, when there are so many other meetings, people, problems and parties talking to us? It’ is tempting to think that either God needs to speak up or we need to tell this other stuff to quiet down.
But perhaps there is another alternative, where we train our minds to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). For many of us it is both impractical and impossible to really spend all day reciting The Lord’s Prayer, reading from the Book of Common Prayer and saying our freestyle compositions. Honestly, I would fall asleep from boredom shortly. But consider this: We can find other creative ways to usher our minds into contemplating God, by thinking about how words all around us point to an amazing God.
Earlier this semester Dr. Barbara Day-Miller (BDM, affectionately) led us through a workshop/class called Writing Liturgical Texts, where we explored forms and techniques for writing different public prayers. Naturally, the emphasis fell on words, what they mean, and how they mean. Interestingly, our class on prayers started by looking at hymns. Great hymn writers paint profound images of God using both atypical and familiar words in new groupings that force us to consider God afresh.
By looking at words in hymns, poems, psalms, prayers, songs and even cooking recipes we can see God again, for the first time! This is one way we can pray without ceasing. This wide-eyed creative lens lets us move beyond Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, to imagining God as a storm who hides a calm cradle at the center of a chaos, or a flashlight that pierces darkness and illumines our paths. During BDM’s class I realized that our prayer writing techniques could be expanded to a wider spiritual practice, where we pray without ceasing. This is the magic of Candler: enabling students to learn beyond what’s being taught!
- Dalan Vanterpool
Dalan is a 2nd Year MDiv student from the British Virgin Islands and a Student Ambassador. He is a regular accompanist for worship at Candler.